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Mecklenburg County schools press ahead with plan to outsource custodial work / February 29, 2012
Mecklenburg County school administrators are continuing to work on a plan to outsource the division’s custodial services to a private company in what they say would be a cost-saving move.

The school division currently employs about 31 custodians, some of them on a part-time basis. If the School Board decides to move forward with outsourcing those services, it could save the school system an estimated $180,000, said Assistant Superintendent of Schools John Keeler.

Keeler initially raised the prospect of handing over custodial services to an outside vendor in School Board budget discussions conducted last year.

The $180,000 figure is only an estimate, he noted — if trustees agree to follow through on the proposal, the school division would ask vendors to submit plans for how they would take care of custodial services, and at what cost.

However, one trustee, Glenn Edwards, questioned the proposal on the grounds that the savings that would be realized would come from employee benefits.

Both Keeler and Superintendent of Schools James Thornton met with custodial staff members to discuss the plan prior to Monday night’s budget meeting with school trustees.

According to Thornton, once the custodians learned their jobs would be preserved, but shifted to a new employer, they focused on the question of benefits — would they be able to carry over their vacation and leave times, for instance.

However, at the February 20 meeting, custodian Leroy Malsbury pleaded with school board members not to outsource custodial jobs. “We are more than janitors. We get to know the students, and they rely on us. Most of us are certified to perform CPR and we are trained to handle many emergencies. We also perform minor repairs and help with keeping up with the grounds and outsides of the buildings. I do all this for $14,000 per year.”

Another advantage, according to Malsbury, is that school officials maintain control over who is employed in the schools.

Keeler has recommended the board hire private contractor Service Solutions as a way to help reduce an estimated $2.3 million deficit in next year’s budget.

Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Matt Cooter, Regional Sales Director for Service Solutions, estimated that his company would cost Mecklenburg schools almost $670,000 per year. In exchange, all of the district’s current custodians would be hired at their current wages and hours for the life of the contract so long as they stay in good standing, pass a background check and complete Service Solutions’ training.

Service Solutions already provides janitorial services in 13 school districts in Virginia, including Charlotte, Dinwiddie, Greenville, and Henry counties. According to Cooter, these schools have reduced the amount of administrative time spent on custodial issues, while receiving quality service from trained professionals.

Under the contract, Service Solutions provides all supplies and new equipment for use at each facility.

Employees receive health benefits, vacation pay, and opportunities for career advancement, in other locations or within divisions of the company. Service Solutions also offers employees the chance to participate in a 401k retirement plan, and match employee contributions up to 25%. Future raises are based on merit.

Cooter conceded under questioning by Edwards one potential downside: current custodians could lose some or all of their current benefits.

Keeler acknowledged that outsourcing “is not a done deal. It’s a proposal.” Still, he encouraged trustees to give the concept serious consideration — to see if it really is beneficial to the school district, and if it ends up saving money.

In other business, trustees awarded a contract to Orr Construction Company of Chase City to complete the interiors of new gymnasiums at La Crosse and Chase City Elementary Schools. Orr submitted a bid of $52,170 to furnish the labor to complete the interior dry wall for the two unfinished buildings. Keeler expected work to be completed by the middle to end of June.

Funding for this work was allocated last year for middle school air conditioners. That project, however, was deferred when the cost of air conditioning exceeded the budget line item. Instead, the board chose to use the money to construct gymnasiums for Clarksville, La Crosse and Chase City Elementary schools.

Trustee Glenn Edwards abstained on the contract vote.

The School Board also agreed to contract with BoardDocs for an entry-level electronic document management system. The program, known as BoardDocs LT, allows organizations to immediately publish documents via the Internet.

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